By Larry Shushansky, LICSW
We’re taught a lot of myths when we’re children: “If you cross your eyes, they’ll get stuck!” “You can’t go swimming for 30 minutes after eating!” “If you touch a toad, you’ll get warts!” We’re also taught myths about relationships, like: “Compromise is key!” “Just be yourself!” “There is a ‘right’ person out there for everyone.”
We practice these myths from the time we first wink at, message or talk to someone. And by trying to fit our relationships into these myths, we create exactly the kinds of relationships we don’t want. Then we sit back and wonder, “Why am I always drawn to unhealthy relationships?”
Because relationships are so important to our well-being, keeping these myths alive can worsen depression, anxiety or other conditions and symptoms we may have. So, let’s look at five common relationship myths and how we have the power to break out of them.
Connection is an essential part of mental health and can improve mental illness symptoms. The key is keeping up with your own treatment and letting the other person know how they can support your efforts.
While it is true that certain symptoms can add challenges when it comes to creating healthy relationships, thinking “I can’t be in a relationship because I’m depressed” is what might keep a person isolated and alone. If depression is interfering with your ability to create new and healthy relationships, then prioritize your mental health. Seek help and find coping mechanisms that work for you, putting you on the path to getting the healthy relationships we all need.
Compromise is when I give up something I don’t want to give up, and you give up something you don’t want to give up in the name of cooperation. In reality, compromise is a shortcut to working out conflict. Instead, explain why you want what you want and listen to what the other person is saying. Enter a dialogue and work out your differences together. Your relationship will be healthier and will evolve, and through that evolution, you’ll feel closer.
For example, if you’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness, rather than “give up” a much-needed yoga session for your household responsibilities, ask your loved one what you want and need from them while you’re taking care of your symptoms. Be clear on what’s going on for you. Instead of wanting to hide what you’re going through or compromising on your recovery, be clear and follow through on what is important to you.
Being loving towards your significant other is important, yes, but love presents itself in a multitude of ways. Sometimes “being loving” means being more assertive, quieter, more giving or less giving. Sometimes it means setting limits, creating boundaries or stepping back from the relationship. Whatever it is, healthy behavior leads to healthier relationships.
Caregivers walk this fine line every day. The personal story “How To Love Someone With A Mental Illness” gives good, practical advice on walking this line, like use empathy and validation; learn about the symptoms and stop taking them personally; learn treatment options, and share them in a way that doesn’t try to persuade or have the other person follow your agenda; do not try to “fix” your loved one; build a community of supportive people around you; and, remember, healing is a process that takes time.
Relationships are not about being yourself or finding yourself—they’re about developing yourself. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that in order to be happy, one has to learn how to develop different sensibilities to different situations. For example, if you live with mental illness, and your symptoms are flaring, it’s important to learn what you need to develop about yourself so you can cope or manage them in a way that doesn’t significantly impact the people around you, or yourself. If you’re not sure how to do this, you can develop these skills through healthy communication and counseling. You don’t need to be perfect by any means, but there’s always room for growth.
When we spend our energy looking for Mr./Mrs. Right, we give up our power to create what we want. The power to create the world we want is contained in the many relationships we have. Even if we’re depressed or anxious, experience mood swings or other symptoms, we have the power to shape the relationships in our lives to increase our well-being.
And we do this by making the decision to do so and then “leading” others into healthier ways of interacting. Not in a controlling or domineering way, but by example—by showing, “This is the kind of relationship I want in my life, and I’m going to act in ways that make it happen.”
So, take a step back from whatever relationship you’re in and clear all the “noise” out of your head. Then define the kind of relationship you want—not the kind of relationship that looks nice on television or the kind of relationship your parents or friends want you to have. After you do that, decide what you might need to develop about yourself to achieve that relationship and start doing it. It won’t be long before the kinds of relationships you want start to manifest in your life.
We can all take a lesson from Gloria Steinem who said, “Far too many people are looking for the right person, instead of trying to be the right person.”
Larry Shushansky has seen thousands of individuals, couples and families over 35 years as a counselor. Through this and the process he used to get clean from his alcohol and drug addiction, Larry has developed the concept of Independent Enough. Follow him on Facebook here. You can also access his blog through his website at Independentenough.com
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